What You Need to Know about Each of Your Direct Reports

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What makes a manager great? What is their secret sauce? And is it something that can be replicated? New York Times bestselling author, Marcus Buckingham, asked this question in an article for the Harvard Business Review. What did Buckingham uncover? Great managers find ways to leverage their direct reports’ unique abilities instead of spending an inordinate amount of time attempting to improve their weaknesses.

They view management as a game of chess, where every piece operates in a specific way, as opposed checkers, where all pieces move in the same manner. To do this, these managers try to answer these three questions for each of their direct reports:

1. What are his or her strengths?

For Buckingham, strength is not necessarily about a particular task, but desire. It can take time to learn your direct reports’ strengths. But questions like, “What was the best day at work you’ve had in the past three months?” can help.

Try to discover what they find so rewarding and satisfying that they would want to do it day after day after day. Search for desire, and let the employee improve on the task over time. Of course, repeated failure at a task may indicate a weakness.

2. What are the triggers that activate those strengths?

Spend some time understanding the motivators of your direct reports. Most of the time, it is not going to be money, but recognition. This, of course, is good news for all of us with limited budgets. You can provide recognition in front of a variety of audiences. For some, they may respond best to acknowledgement in front of their peers. Others may prefer a simple “thank you” note. Great managers determine which is most important to their direct reports and uses it accordingly.

3. What is his or her learning style?

Buckingham identified three types of learning styles: Analyzing, doing, and watching.

The Analyzer: The analyzer needs time to understand all of the parts. They do not like to make mistakes. They like to break down the role, examine the elements, and then rebuild. Role-playing is often beneficial for analyzers.

The Doer: The doer learns through performance. They will need time to try, make a mistake, and try again. For this learner, choose a real task for them to complete. And then give them space to make it happen.

The Watcher: The watcher likes to see the entire picture. They do not do well in a classroom setting. They learn best when shadowing another experienced employee.

Management can be difficult. Each direct report will have their strengths and their weaknesses. But the great managers are those who discover how to unlock each employee’s potential and place them in a position where they can succeed. Sometimes, all it takes is asking a few questions.

What about you? What management tips do you have? Please place your suggestions in the comment section below.

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